Several people objected to having the two proposals treated in separate articles. Rose Alboum, among others, tried to initiate a comparative discussion of the alternatives, but moderator Patricia Pusey repeatedly reminded voters that, as a matter of law, only one article could be discussed at a time. It took a paper ballot, but the board’s request was ultimately granted by a vote of 55-46. In a second paper ballot, residents voted 50-12 to pass over the article on board expansion.
Voters also agreed to establish a reserve fund, capped at 5% of the general and highway budget, “to cover unanticipated revenue shortfall and to pay non-recurring and unanticipated general and highway fund expenses.” No monies will be appropriated specifically for the reserve; it will be funded from budget surplus only, should a surplus occur. Any surplus exceeding 5% of the general and highway budget will, as usual, be applied to reducing taxes in the following fiscal year.
Some confusion arose over whether the more than $300,000 in FEMA reimbursements still owed to the town constituted a surplus. Selectboard member Earl Holtz reminded voters that FEMA reimbursements are for monies already spent by the town; it is not “found money,” and much of it is already allocated in the fiscal year 2015 budget. There is still some uncertainty over when the last of this Irene reimbursement money will be paid to the town, in this fiscal year or the next.
The $1,285,136 budget for fiscal year 2015 was passed. It could have been more, $79,136 more, to be precise. The difference arose from a bookkeeping error in the warned total and was excised in an amendment proposed by selectboard chair Edee Edwards.
The treasurer’s budget passed without comment, but the voters, possibly still smarting from the heavy spending, engaged in the traditional, lengthy squabble over the relatively minuscule constables budget. Hoping to introduce some clarity into the discussion, the selectboard split the $10,000 into two articles, reflecting last year’s decision to allocate only $2,000 for the salary and expenses of uncertified constables. The remaining $8,000 would come into play only if either or both of the constables becomes certified or is actively in training for certification. Joseph Tamburino asked why the constables should be paid during training, rather than after completing it. Tamburino felt that paying before certification creates an opportunity for abuse. Edwards cited expenses incurred during training, and former constable Andy Rice told voters that one part of the process, field training, requires payment to the trainer. Trainee constables, Rice said, should not be asked to cover their trainer’s salary out of their own pockets.
Neither Halifax constable is currently attending courses at the police academy; first constable Leonard Derby said that he does intend to pursue certification. Ray White proposed an amendment allocating $2,000 during training, with $6,000 to be made available after certification. Rice made the point that money appropriated for the constables budget remains under selectboard control. Constables must present invoice/reports detailing work and expenses.
The remaining articles on the town portion of the warning passed without controversy.
The school district budget of $1,467,122 was amended by a $1,500 reduction, as proposed by Cara Cheyette. Cheyette felt that the expenditure for visiting artists was unnecessary, and a sufficient number of voters agreed. The amended budget passed.
School board chair Chum Sumner reported the stellar results achieved by Halifax students in math competitions. Sumner also, as he had promised, presented an estimated figure for per-pupil costs for elementary school students only. Using the current figure of 55 elementary students, Sumner estimated the cost at $7,500. Without the Searsburg students currently paying tuition, the cost would be $8,400 per pupil. Asked why the school charges only $5,500 per pupil in tuition, Sumner said that one reason Halifax attracted the outside students (and the revenue enhancement that comes with them) is the district’s willingness to underbid other towns.